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Dip Your Ears, No. 68

available at Amazon
W. A. Mozart, Die Zauberflöte, Abbado / Mahler CO D.Röschmann, C.Strehl, H.Müller-Brachmann, J.Kleiter, R.Pape, E.Miklósa DG
Claudio Abbado is enjoying his Indian Summer and conducts bands he feels particularly drawn to… among them the Lucerne Festival Orchestra (more or less made up of the best players of his previous orchestras, united by their love and respect for Abbado) and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. It is with the latter that he performed The Magic Flute in a production of his son, Daniele Abbado. Recorded live in Modena, it is Abbado’s first Zauberflöte and at once a great success.

A joyous performance that gives lie to the notion that conductors get slower and slower with age, this Flute has generally brisk (but also very flexible) tempi; there is no dwelling and lingering. As a dramatic comedy it is tightly and tidily presented and supported by wonderful singers. Dorothea Röschmann is a charming Pamina because she never whines – a flaw of so many Paminas. Christoph Strehl may not be a Wunderlich but is just right for the young, serious, noble Tamino: a delight! René Pape hardly needs my praise – is there any better Sarastro out there? Hanno Müller-Brachmann is a young, fresh Papageno who, in front of an Italian audience, does not feel the need to add some southern-German joviality to his light and breezy, humorous enough Papageno: much funnier and light-hearted than, for example, Fischer-Dieskau, who was once perfectly characterized as sounding like “a tourist in Lederhosen” (Böhm, DG – with Wunderlich as an unforgettable Tamino). The three ladies look better than they sing - but since they look very good, there is some room for variance without becoming a detriment to the recording. The three boys are actually boys (from the Tözer Knabenchor) - which has obvious disadvantages as far as the strength of the voices is concerned but works better dramatically. I tend to prefer that solution over three women. Erika Miklósa’s Queen of the Night offers partly stellar (pun intended) singing, but her atrocious German makes the spoken dialogue involving her rather an ordeal.

Speaking of speaking, Abbado is quick enough in his conducting to include plenty, nearly all, dialogue in this Magic Flute (since it was recorded live) and still fit the Singspiel on two discs. I often read reviews that bemoan the missing dialogue in recordings of this opera (most conductors cut at least some – to my knowledge only Haitink includes every last word) – but find most of it rather distracting than adding to the experience. For those who understand German it’s pleasant to have the option, I suppose, and the others can either ignore it or skip it with a click of the button.

The Magic Flute is an opera I very much like (it was the first I ever had on record) without obsessing about it. I’ve heard a few versions (Solti/Decca, Klemperer/EMI, Böhm/DG, Sawallisch/EMI) but always return to my trusty Böhm/Decca when I do listen to it. This new recording, however, might change the habit – fresh and sparkly as it is it blows away much dust: it’s the best Zauberflöte to have appeared since Arnold Östman’s period performance at Drottningholm (Decca).

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